First Faculty Advisor
American politics; voting; activism
Differences in levels of education and generational values arguably lead to the largest challenge that currently faces American politics – perceived polarization. Polarization exacerbates issues within social groups and political groups, causing tension between different ideological stances and what a group identifies as their own “in group” and an opposite “out” group. When coupled with influence from major labor unions, this perceived polarization that stems from education and age work is responsible for the highly competitive and unfriendly political climate of the United States. To better understand how these variables influence American politics, I analyze how differences in age and education status, groupthink, political polarization, and labor unions have influenced American voters between 2000 and 2020. Using research and data available to the public, this project identifies patterns and shifts in voting behavior and political activism over the past 20 years. Through the analysis of the political activity of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), I conduct a small-scale case study that further analyzes how an individual’s education, involvement within social identity groups, and involvement within a labor union influences their engagement with American politics. Within my research, I found that labor unions are not an identity group to which an individual subscribes – instead, these labor unions influence how the lower-class and lower-educated individuals obtain resources to participate politically. A connection was found between older generations and higher political participation, and wealthier/higher educated individuals and political participation – the labor unions help to lower the barriers to entry in political participation for individuals who are not wealthy and are not highly educated by providing educational and financial resources to help redistribute societal power.